ZF demonstrates technological capabilities

AACHEN, Germany — ZF this week demonstrated some of its most impressive current and future technologies, including a truck that can be maneuvered from outside the vehicle using a tablet.

The global technology and component supplier brought together about 150 trucking journalists from around the world to showcase its technological capabilities at a test track just outside Aachen, Germany.

The highlight was its Innovation Truck, which can be operated from outside the vehicle via a tablet in low-speed situations, such as backing up to a dock or maneuvering through a terminal. Acknowledging that it will be some time before autonomously-driven trucks are allowed on public roads, ZF chose to develop a system that can legally be used today in private settings.

ZF’s Innovation Truck can be maneuvered from outside the vehicle using a tablet.

The truck pulled two trailers collectively spanning 25.25 metres. During the demonstration, a ZF official standing outside the vehicle guided the truck backwards through a set of cones using only his finger and a tablet app.

“With our Innovation Truck, we illustrate the additional potential already present in our current technologies,” said Dr. Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF. “We have realized completely new assistant functions that are incredibly efficient and, at the same time, relatively simple to implement. They can also provide answers to many of the complex challenges that forwarding and logistics companies face on a daily basis.”

The Innovation Truck can be maneuvered cleanly and noiselessly, thanks to an electric motor integrated into the bell housing of the new TraXon Hybrid transmission that produces 120 kW of power. In practical terms, the maneuvering assistant system could be used to relieve drivers of boring duties while waiting to be loaded or unloaded. And the ‘coolness’ of it could help attract young, tech-savvy people to the industry.

“The maneuvering assistant in the Innovation Truck completely relieves the driver of this steering work and much more,” said Olrik Weinmann, project manager in advanced engineering and testing with ZF. “They can get out and move the tractor-trailer to the exact position required with only small finger movements and using a special tablet app.”




A new TraXon transmission

Also demonstrated for the first time was ZF’s new TraXon automatic transmission, featuring GPS technology so that it can read the road profile ahead and shift accordingly. The integration of GPS gives the transmission a set of eyes, so to speak, and allows it to better predict the topography of the road ahead and efficiently shift gears so that it operates as efficiently as possible while eliminating unneeded gear changes.

Image converted using ifftoany
The new ZF TraXon transmission.

The transmission will be commercially available in Europe and other markets next year, and will eventually replace the popular AS Tronic transmission. A 12-volt version is also in the works, hinting of possible future availability in North America, though no such plans were officially revealed.

A dual clutch version of the new transmission offers seamless ‘power-shifting’ between the top gears, with no noticeable interruption in power supply. The TraXon also features more torque and a higher gear spread than its predecessor, generates less noise and can be driven by dry clutch, torque converter clutch, hybrid module or dual clutch module.

The TraXon will be offered with 12 or 16 speeds, in direct drive or overdrive configurations, as well as multiple reverse gears. The modular design allows ZF to offer the basic transmission with five starting or shift modules.

Its PreVision GPS allows truck manufacturers to link up the transmission with GPS data and digital maps in order to prevent unnecessary shifting. For instance, upshifts conducted on an uphill gradient or narrow bend can be eliminated when a downshift will soon be necessary.

The TraXon also disengages on sloping roadways so that no fuel is consumed and drag losses are eliminated when descending subtle grades. It also automatically engages the engine and transmission brakes when steeper hills are identified, to relieve the service brakes, preventing wear.

“ZF’s new TraXon transmission is the answer to all currently known mega-trends in long-distance traffic,” said Rolf Lutz, member of the board of management responsible for commercial vehicle technology with ZF. “The greatest possible flexibility with many variants in a very broad application range leads to low operating costs because the transmission increases the reliability and reduces fuel consumption.”

I had the opportunity to drive the TraXon Dual on a course near Aachen and the power-shifting between the upper and lower gears was completely unperceivable to the driver, providing a more comfortable driving experience and improved efficiency.

The TraXon Hybrid incorporates hybrid technology, with an electric motor located in the clutch bell housing that recuperates braking energy. This allows the truck to be maneuvered in electric mode and for the diesel engine to be shut down while at a standstill, or for electric power generated by the system to be used to power secondary units such as a reefer motor.


James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.